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Bob Crewe 1930-2014

Bob CreweBob Crewe, who died last week aged 83, was one of the architects of 1960s pop music. Here’s my Guardian obituary. It’s interesting that of all the records he made, among his favourites was one that, from the outside, must have looked highly unpromising: the Four Seasons’ 1966 version of Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”.

Written in 1936 for the musical Born to Dance, the song received its definitive reading 20 years later, when Frank Sinatra included it on Songs for Swingin’ Lovers!, a hugely successful album. Sinatra had been featuring it in concert for a decade, but the recorded version benefited from Nelson Riddle’s finger-snapping arrangement, which builds up to Milt Bernhart’s wild trombone solo. It catches Sinatra at the very zenith of his ring-a-ding-dingness.

So it was brave of Bob Gaudio, a member of the Four Seasons and Crewe’s songwriting and production partner, to suggest that they risk a charge of sacrilege by giving it a whirl. The key to the triumphant success of their version might have been the decision to assign the job of arranging it not to one of their regular collaborators, such as the great Charlie Calello, but to the comparatively unfamiliar Artie Schroeck, who had been given his first breaks in the business by Gene Krupa and Lionel Hampton and whose background was in big-band music.

Was it Gaudio, Crewe or Schroeck who made the crucial decision to switch the basic rhythm from a swinging 4/4 to straight eights, thus transforming the song from semi-jazz to pure pop? My guess would be Gaudio. But it’s the arranger who finds a way to integrate the tempo changes, the pauses and the rubato passages, to blend the strings and the tubular bells, to marshal the dynamic shifts, to make a sudden switch to the minor key, and to emphasise the drum fills — probably played by Buddy Salzmann — in a way that evokes the group’s earlier hits. And whoever came up with the repeated “Never win… never win…” in the backing vocals was a man who knew how to craft a hook.

It was a huge hit, of course. No wonder Bob Crewe was so proud of it. Here it is.

* The photograph above, which appears in the booklet accompanying the Four Seasons/Frankie Valli box set Jersey Beat, released on the Rhino label in 2007, was taken during the session at which “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” was recorded in 1966. Left to right: Joe Long, Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Artie Schroeck and Tommy DeVito.

 

 

A night with Mississippi Records

Mississippi RecordsEric Isaacson lives in Portland, Oregon, where he founded Mississippi Records in 2003, releasing vinyl LPs that anthologised pieces of music from some of the thousands of 78s he had been collecting, building up a picture of vernacular music during the first half-century of recorded sound. As a child, he had created his own Beatles LPs on tape by copying down the running order of each album and recording every track off the radio on cassette before dubbing them into the correct sequence. That occupied him between the ages of seven and 10. After that, he never looked back. Or perhaps that’s not quite the right way to put it.

He was the host of an event at the Cafe Oto in London last night, presenting three of the artists featured on his label: the singer and guitarist Brian Mumford, performing as Dragging an Ox Through Water, the cellist Lori Goldston, who toured with Nirvana in the year before Kurt Cobain’s death, and the lap-steel player Marisa Anderson. But he opened the evening with an illustrated talk titled “A Cosmic and Earthly History of Recorded Music According to Mississippi Records”.

A man of strong opinions, who doesn’t like saxophone solos and thinks that “very little good music” was recorded between 1933 and 1952, in other words between the depths of the Great Depression and the heyday of Moe Asch’s Folkways label, he proved entertaining company. After playing sounds alleged to be those of a dying star and of the potter’s grooves inscribed in a Grecian urn, he reminded us of the epidemic of “laughing” records that proved popular in the 1890s, a phenomenon which survived at least into the 1950s, when I remember listening to Children’s Favourites, the BBC Light Programme’s Saturday-morning show, in the hope that it would feature “The Laughing Policeman”.

The centrepiece of Isaacson’s address came in a 20-minute collage of film clips edited from his own collection, illustrating African American music more or less in the raw. It began with wonderful footage of the Staple Singers (pictured above), with the teenaged Mavis in staggering form, and included bits of Bo Diddley, street and church singers, the Ronettes, James Brown, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Claude Jeter with the Swan Silvertones before climaxing with Mahalia Jackson singing “Trouble of the World” in front of a congregation including Lana Turner and Sandra Dee during the funeral scene from Douglas Sirk’s 1959 melodrama Imitation of Life. He added with a clip of Nina Simone in riveting free-association mode at the Montreux Jazz Festival (you can find it here, from 37:30 to 44.40).

Of the live performers, I was taken by Lori Goldston’s powerful arco pieces, all skirling double and triple stops, her cello run through a Fender Twin amp, and the way her more delicate pizzicato work made the instrument sound like an oud. Brian Mumford/Dragging an Ox Through Water performed in the dark, without stage lighting, and made me think of what the late guitar visionary Sandy Bull might have sounded like, had he been subjected to the influence of Suicide and Metal Machine Music: tremulous rockabilly vocals completely masked by distortion, heavily reverbed chords bleeding into each other at high volume, a seemingly arbitrary but nonetheless dramatic sense of structure.

The danger is that such music becomes merely picturesque, no more than the sum of its references. Goldston and Mumford get beyond that. But Mavis Staples, Mahalia Jackson and Nina Simone: those are hard acts to follow.

Soft tissues

Artchipel Orchestra 3If you happen to be in Italy, and you get a move on, you can probably still buy the September issue of the monthly magazine Musica Jazz, which has a cover-mounted CD: Ferdinando Faraò & Artchipel Orchestra Play Soft Machine. For several reasons, this is a good thing to own.

Faraò set up the orchestra four years ago, with an unusual mission: to reinterpret the work of British jazz and jazz-rock composers of the late 1960s and early 1970s. After making a start on Mike Westbrook, Fred Frith, Dave Stewart and Alan Gowen, he moved on to the Soft Machine. Most recently, in June, the orchestra’s guests at the Fasano festival were Keith and Julie Tippetts. Their leader obviously sees something he likes in the music being made in London during an all too brief era when young rock and jazz musicians worked freely together and anything seemed possible.

The CD that comes with Musica Jazz concentrates in particular on the compositions of the late Hugh Hopper, the Softs’ bass guitarist from 1968 to 1973. Five of Hopper’s tunes — “Facelift”, “Kings and Queens”, “Noisette”, “Dedicated to You But You Weren’t Listening” and “Moustrap” — are among the seven tracks on the 55-minute CD, which was recorded in a Milan studio last December. The other two are Faraò’s “Facelift: Prelude”, an atmospheric introduction to the set , and Robert Wyatt’s classic “Moon in June”, concluding the album in a loose but well organised interpretation featuring Filippo Pascuzzi and Serena Ferrara, two of the ensemble’s four singers.

Faraò and his fellow arranger, Beppe Barbera, aren’t making carbon copies of the originals here. They’re devising revisions that bring unusual resources to bear on the material, exposing facets of beauty that we might not have imagined to be present, even in embryo. To “Kings and Queens”, first heard on Soft Machine’s 4 in 1971, they bring the vocal quartet, a bass riff doubled by Simone Mauri’s bass clarinet, and colouristic interventions by Flavio Minardo’s sitar, Eloisa Manera’s violin and Paolo Botti’s viola. “Dedicated to You…”, which dates from 1969, is successfully rearranged for acapella voices in a treatment inspired by the Delta Saxophone Quartet’s version.

This band has improvisers of substance, too, as we learn from the thoughtful contributions of Germano Zenga’s tenor saxophone, Felice Clemente’s soprano and in particular Massimo Falascone’s unaccompanied alto on an expansive reading of “Noisette”, which Hopper wrote in 1969 and which first appeared on the Softs’ Third in 1970.

I’ve been listening recently listening to Hopper’s solo album, 1984 (released in 1973), and to Canterburied Sounds, the four-CD set of archive material recorded between 1962 and 1972 in mostly informal situations by the various early members of the Softs, and released in full last on the Floating World label. The Artchipel Orchestra’s album presents another perspective on the work of a fascinating musician, and deserves a proper commercial release.

(Addendum: See Alessandro’s reply for information on how to get hold of the relevant issue of Musica Jazz.)

* The photograph of Ferdinando Faraò and the Artchipel Orchestra was taken by Angela Bartolo at the Ah Um festival in Milan in 2011 and is taken from the band’s website: https://sites.google.com/site/artchipelorchestra/

 

 

Gerald Wilson 1918-2014

Gerald Wilson PortraitsThe news of Gerald Wilson’s death this week at the age of 96 reminds us of the sheer scale of his career: he wrote his first arrangement in 1939 (for Jimmie Lunceford) and was still making fine records with his own large ensemble well after the turn of the millennium. In between times he produced an enormous amount of worthwhile music, as is recounted in a good Los Angeles Times obituary by Don Heckman here. But three albums that he made with his own big band for Pacific Jazz in the early ’60s — You Better Believe It!, Moment of Truth and Portraits — have always been particularly precious to me, for the way they blend the influences of Duke Ellington and Gil Evans with a receptiveness to then-current developments in modal jazz and the avant-garde, and for the presence of a bunch of smoking soloists.

Wilson wrote music that swung hard, but he never disengaged his brain or his imagination — Portraits includes tracks dedicated to Aram Khachaturian, Ravi Shankar and Eric Dolphy — and he provided a stimulating framework for such hand-picked improvisers as the trumpeter Carmell Jones, the trombonist Lou Blackburn, the altoist Jimmy Woods and the tenorists Teddy Edwards and Harold Land.

Here’s a clip from the episode of Frankly Jazz, a Hollywood TV show sponsored by Pacific Jazz, that featured Wilson’s band. It shows them performing a snatch of “Blues for Yna Yna”, the hit tune from You Better Believe It! (on which it featured the organist Richard “Groove” Holmes), before going into Wilson’s storming arrangement of Miles Davis’s “Milestones”, from Moment of Truth. The leader picks up his trumpet to kick off a solo sequence that also features Buddy Collette on alto, Blackburn on trombone, Edwards on tenor and Jack Wilson on piano. The drummer is Mel Lewis, the bassist is Jimmy Bond and other recognisable faces include the altoist Joe Maini and the baritone saxophonist Jack Nimitz.

If you want more, here’s Wilson’s original version of “Viva Tirado“, also from Moment of Truth, with Joe Pass on guitar and Carmell Jones on trumpet. It’s how one part of LA sounded in 1963. Still pretty hip, if you ask me.

* The photograph of Gerald Wilson is from the cover of Portrait and was taken by Woody Woodward.

Sweet home Kokomo

Kokomo stage 2A Kokomo reunion would always have been high on the wants list of anyone who saw them in their 1970s heyday, when they were consistently the hottest live experience London’s small venues had to offer. This summer it turned into reality, and last night their short tour reached the Half Moon in Putney: just the sort of intimate, informal joint they once rocked, and which they can still sell out with ease.

It wasn’t quite the original line-up. Mel Collins is in the US with King Crimson, Jody Linscott is in Japan, Terry Stannard is long retired, Alan Spenner is no longer with us and, sadly, Dyan Birch was unwell. But Nigel Hitchcock, Frank Tontoh, Glen LeFleur and Jennifer Maidman took the places of Collins, Stannard, Linscott and Spenner on tenor saxophone, drums, congas and bass guitar respectively, while Helena-May Harrison, from the evening’s support band, Man May’d, stepped into the space left by the missing singer at a couple of hours’ notice to bring a fine voice and an irresistible vivacity to the show.

As with any classic vehicle, there were a few creaks and glitches along the way before the oil had fully circulated around the mechanism, but the storming two-hour set would have satisfied anyone’s expectations. The band warmed up with “Tee Time”, an old favourite instrumental, before the singers arrived for “Third Time Around”. Tony O’Malley took over Birch’s lead part on “Yes We Can”, Paddie McHugh stopped the show with “Angel” just as he used to do, and Frank Collins conducted the soul choir on “With Everything I Feel in Me”. Neil Hubbard and Jim Mullen supplied contrasting guitar solos of the highest quality, while Hitchcock did the Don Wilkerson/Fathead Newman thing to great effect. Maidman and Tontoh meshed beautifully on “Lonely Town, Lonely Street” and “I Can Understand It”. The audience needed no urging to join in on a celebratory new song called “Back at the Bag”.

They encored with a rolling “Sweet Home Kokomo” and a bit of crisp audience participation on “The Ghetto”. Two hours didn’t seem nearly enough for all the catching up they and we have to do.

* Left to right in the photograph: Tony O’Malley, Neil Hubbard, Helena-May Harrison, Paddie McHugh, Frank Collins, Jim Mullen and Nigel Hitchcock. At the gigs they’re selling a CD put together from a two-track tape recorded at the Venue in 1981: it’s a lovely souvenir and is downloadable at cdbaby.com.

 

Strings attached

Bird with strings 2Charlie Parker’s album with strings was the record that persuaded Gilad Atzmon to become a jazz musician. “Now I wish I’d never heard it,” the Israeli-born, London-based alto saxophonist and bandleader announced at Ronnie Scott’s last night, giving his listeners a reminder of the sort of sardonic humour not regularly heard at 47 Frith Street since the club’s founder died in 1996.

Supervised by Norman Granz in 1949, and also featuring oboe, French horn and harp along with a five- or six-piece string section, the Bird with Strings sessions broadened Parker’s audience but were despised by critics. You can see why: on the face of it, this is the equivalent of covering a monastery refectory’s fine, plain oak table with a fancy lace cloth. And there’s no Bud Powell or Dizzy Gillespie or Max Roach to interact with the greatest improviser of his age. But the weird thing is how great the records sound today: Parker, who never spoke ill of the project, soars above the background, his inventions dizzyingly crammed with substance and always propelled by that extraordinary life-force.

Atzmon was performing some of the pieces from those recordings with his quartet, the Orient House Ensemble (Frank Harrison on piano, Yaron Stavi on bass and Chris Higginbottom on drums), and the Sigamos Quartet (violinists Ros Stephen and Marianne Haynes, viola-player Felix Tanner and cellist Laura Moody). Stephen’s arrangements update the work done on the original sessions by Jimmy Carroll and Joe Lipman, making effective use of the pared-down resources and creating a strong bond between the two sides of what is in effect a double quartet. They recorded some of them in the same format on Atzmon’s album In Loving Memory of America in 2009, and the following year Atzmon and Stephen joined Robert Wyatt on For the Ghosts Within, where the ghosts included the spirit of Bird with Strings.

At Ronnie’s they featured “Everything Happens to Me”, “April in Paris” and “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was”, all of which featured Atzmon’s pungent sound and urgent triple-time flurries, with Harrison’s delicate soloing providing the occasional oasis of calm reflection. Unlike those pieces, which remained close to the approach and mood of the Parker recordings, “If I Should Lose You” contained noir-ish sound effects from the string quartet while “What Is This Thing Called Love” came retrofitted with a trip-hop beat and deadpan string riffs. Several of Atzmon’s own compositions also varied the mix, including one called “Moscow”, from a recent album devoted to portraits of major cities, its hint of bombast capturing the sometimes oppressive ambiance of the Russian capital.

They finished with a piece that is, as Atzmon observed, one of the most beautiful of all jazz-associated tunes: David Raksin’s “Laura”, composed for Otto Preminger’s 1945 movie but transformed four years later into a vehicle for Parker’s genius, and the perfect way to end an enormously enjoyable evening of homage and rebirth.

* The photograph of Charlie Parker with his string players is taken from Gary Giddins’s book Celebrating Bird (Hodder & Stoughton, 1987), where it was used by permission of Maely Daniele Dufty and the Bevan Dufty Collection. 

Coltrane in the Temple

John Coltrane : Temple UThe final period of John Coltrane’s career is the great unresolved topic of jazz, and the arguments over its meaning and value will probably never cease. How could someone who in 1964 had reached the plateau of apparent artistic perfection represented by Crescent and A Love Supreme then make such a radical transition into the area of turbulence and uncertainty that he occupied in the period until his death in 1967, and which is embodied in a new two-CD set titled Offering: Live at Temple University?

I suppose the answer is that Crescent and A Love Supreme did not represent a plateau at all. That was just an illusion created by the fact that Coltrane went into a recording studio on those particular days, laid down the music on which he had been working, and then saw the results released by his record company, subsequently to be reviewed by critics, bought by his fans, and slotted neatly into a narrative of one man’s artistic evolution. The jazz public, particularly in Europe, has always seen the history of jazz as a progression from one recorded artefact to another; that is not, in general, how the musicians experience it. Whereas we think of A Love Supreme as one of the great music’s pillars, to Coltrane it may have been nothing more than a milestone that had already disappeared from his rear-view mirror by the time of its appearance in the record stores.

Offering is a complete and official release of a 1966 concert previously available only in partial and bootleg form. The combined production staff of Impulse Records, Coltrane’s label at the time, and Resonance Records, who specialise in unearthing previously hidden gems, have restored the tapes originally made by WRTI-FM, the radio station at Temple University in Philadelphia, during an event that was by all accounts poorly attended and received a mixed response from those who did turn up. Ashley Kahn tells the fascinating story in his sensitive and erudite sleeve note, piecing together the details of an evening on which three members of Coltrane’s regular band — Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane and Rashied Ali — were joined by Sonny Johnson, depping for Jimmy Garrison. More significantly, the leader was happy to welcome a platoon of auxiliary percussionists (Robert Kenyatta, Algie DeWitt, Umar Ali and perhaps others) and to give space to solos by a couple of spirited young alto saxophonists, Steve Knoblauch and Arnold Joyner, whose impromptu appearances that evening represent the only mark they made on jazz history. 

Indistinct as the sound of the rhythm section might still be on the restored recording, the acoustic effect is probably very much as the audience experienced it that night. More important, the solo voices come through with great clarity, and none to better effect than that of Coltrane, whose tenor improvisations on the long, free-associative versions of “Naima” and “Crescent”, which constitute the first of the two discs, are strong in tone, wonderfully poised and — as Kahn points out — dense with closely argued motivic development. The title track is one of his lovely prayer-ballads. But during “Leo”, on which he is heard on soprano, tenor and flute, and on the closing “My Favourite Things”, he also uses his voice, chanting and apparently thumping his chest in an attempt to produce the sound he was after: trying to get closer, it seems, to speaking in tongues.

We know that he was strongly influenced by the music of Albert Ayler, who used his saxophone as a tool with which to attain spiritual transcendence. It has often been said, too, that the use of LSD was a factor in the creative decisions underlying Coltrane’s final years. Had he lived beyond his 41st year, he might one day have sat down and explained his thinking in detail. Since that won’t happen, we’re left to work it out for ourselves. Offering can’t answer all the questions, but it’s a big chunk of priceless evidence. And it contains some incontestably majestic saxophone-playing.

* The photograph is a cropped version of one that appears in the booklet with Offering: Live at Temple University (Impulse/Resonance), where it appears by courtesy of the University of California’s Special Collections and Archives and the Frank Kofsky Archives.

“The world is in an uproar…”

Sad and lonely, all the time

That’s because I’ve got a worried mind

You know the world is in an uproar

The danger zone is everywhere, everywhere

When Ray Charles recorded Percy Mayfield’s “The Danger Zone” in New York on the afternoon of the 4th of July, 1961, a few hours before a gig in Atlantic City, the world was indeed in an uproar. In the Congo, Patrice Lumumba had just been assassinated. Paris’s two commercial airports had recently been closed for fear of airborne attacks by Algerian rebels. In Cuba, the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion had failed to topple the Castro regime. Black and white “freedom riders” had been attacked by racists in Montgomery, Alabama. The anti-communist Ngo Dinh Diem had won a presidential election in South Vietnam, where the US government was planning to send thousands more “military advisers”. Rhodesia had just refused to give blacks a bigger say in government. A month later, the Berlin Wall would go up overnight.

I have a long list of favourite Ray Charles records, and “The Danger Zone”, with its perfectly judged vocal and gorgeous small-band arrangement, might just be first among equals. I encountered it on the B-side of “Hit the Road, Jack”, recorded that same afternoon. The words of Mayfield, a great writer, lose no power as the decades go by, and they came to mind yesterday when a track from Leonard Cohen’s forthcoming album, Popular Problems, appeared on YouTube.

I was guided to it by an item on my friend Martin Colyer’s excellent blog, Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week. It’s called “Almost Like the Blues”, and here it is. An unadorned 12-bar sequence, a simple bass-guitar, ticking hand-drums, discreet acoustic and electric keys, a female chorale, a sudden wash of synthetic strings, a distant horn section, and this, delivered as a semi-recitative by a man nearing the end of his 80th year on earth:

I saw some people starving, there was murder, there was rape

Their villages were burning, they were trying to escape

I couldn’t meet their glances, I was staring at my shoes

It was acid, it was tragic, it was almost like the blues

Like the poet Mayfield, the poet Cohen is doing what a poet does: blending the personal and the universal, the great and the small, for an audience waking up each day to the news from Iraq and Syria, Gaza, Ukraine, and Ferguson, Missouri. He doesn’t try to make sense of it. No one could do that. But he leaves us thinking.

There is no god in heaven and there is no hell below

So says the great professor of all there is to know

But I’ve had the invitation that a sinner can’t refuse

And it’s almost like salvation, it’s almost like the blues…

 

Marius Neset / Trondheim Jazz Orchestra

http://youtu.be/watDRZJLB6U

It was a liberating moment for large jazz ensembles in general when Carla Bley and Charlie Haden decided, while putting together the first Liberation Music Orchestra album in 1968, that big bands no longer had to operate according to a policy of strict precision. The informality of the amateur bands assembled for Balkan weddings, Sicilian funerals or Andalucian saints’ day parades seemed more appropriate to the spirit of jazz than the militaristic discipline associated with, say, the Buddy Rich Orchestra. It was something that Duke Ellington and Charlie Mingus had always known, but they were thought to be exceptions to the rule that if you have four trumpeters, they should start and finish a phrase as if they were four mouthpieces attached to a single instrument, rather than the voices of four individuals.

Something similar happened in rock music when the Band came along. The voices of Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Levon Helm were distinct from each other, each with its own tone and grain. This cross-textured quality set their harmonies apart from those of, say, the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons, who aimed to produce a unified, homogenised choral sound.

I was thinking about that while listening to the saxophonist Marius Neset and the 11-piece Trondheim Jazz Orchestra perform pieces from their recent ACT album, Lion, at Ronnie Scott’s last night. These conservatory-trained Norwegians are phenomenal technicians, and the compositions Neset has provided for them are complex and challenging, to say the least, but the collective attack of the ensemble has nothing to do with nanosecond exactness and everything to do with the human element of a dozen people playing together. That humanity was the overriding impression left by an hour and a half of exceptional music.

The breadth and subtlety of Neset’s writing for this usual ensemble (two trumpets, trombone, tuba, three saxophones, accordion, piano, bass and drums) demonstrates that he is a musical thinker of great qualities, with a gift for unexpected combinations of instrumental timbres that is handed down from Ellington and Gil Evans (the opening of the ballad titled “Raining”, for instance, was ravishing). His long, often discursive pieces left plenty of room for solos by each of the musicians, all of whom made handsome use of the opportunity. Eivind Loning’s trumpet multiphonics, Eirik Hegdal’s rampaging baritone saxophone (imagine John Surman after swallowing a bag of rusty nails), Jovan Pavlovic’s delicate accordion and Espen Berg’s discreet piano — occupying a clearing that suddenly appeared in the middle of the otherwise densely eventful “Weight of the World” — were outstanding. The individual highlight of the whole night, however, was a long, long bass solo by Petter Eldh, whose energy and inventiveness seemed inexhaustible; somewhere inside my head, his sprung rhythms were still unwinding themselves the next morning.

I don’t think Neset himself is a great improviser yet. He has all the equipment, but in the arc of his solos and his mannerisms — the horn comes out of his mouth and his left hand flies off the keys at regular intervals, while his blond hair flops rather fetchingly as his body flexes in ecstasy — he’s less like a conventional jazz musician than a lead guitarist in a prog-rock band, whose playing always has to build inexorably to a climax guaranteed to lift listeners from their seats. Which, in his case, it does. But once a night is enough. After that it begins to feel predictable. At 29, however, he has time on his side.

Postscript: A benefit for Kenny Wheeler

Reuben Fowler Big Band 2The concert organised for the benefit of Kenny Wheeler in East London on Friday night ended with an astonishing set from the Reuben Fowler Big Band. The 22-strong outfit played three of Wheeler’s compositions — “The Jigsaw”, “Sea Lady” and The 2005 Suite — and mastered their complexities with a verve and precision that would have delighted the composer, had his health permitted his attendance at the old Dalston Odeon cinema, now known as Epic.

Fowler, only 24 years old, left his trumpet in its case on this occasion but proved to be an adept conductor, exerting a degree of control that allowed the music to breathe. He began his musical life in brass bands in his native Yorkshire, which may be why he responded at an early age to Wheeler’s music, with its love of brass sonorities (here articulated by five trumpeters, all doubling flugelhorn, and four trombones). 

Wheeler’s role was played successively by Steve Fishwick, Martin Shaw and George Hogg, all of whom performed with distinction, as did Brigitte Beraha, singing the parts originally written for Norma Winstone. Evan Parker’s soprano saxophone introduction to “Sea Lady” was even more striking than on its original appearance as part of Wheeler’s 1990 ECM album, Music for Large & Small Ensembles. The suite, written by Kenny for his 75th birthday tour and originally featuring Lee Konitz, has never been recorded; that oversight should be rectified as soon as possible, preferably with the musicians who did it such justice on Friday.

The evening also included a remarkable set by the Alison Blunt Ensemble, in which the violinist led her dozen musicians — all strings, with the exception of Mark Sanders on drums and Neil Metcalfe on flute — produced striking interpretations of some of Wheeler’s compositions, with the benefit of a mere hour’s rehearsal but much empathy and spirit. 

A lot of people had taken considerable trouble to make this a memorable event, not least Parker, the principal organiser, and Blanca Regina, whose projections on a side wall provided a constant reminder of the evening’s subject. All the money raised will go towards defraying the costs of health care for Kenny and his wife, Doreen. When I wrote a piece on this blog in advance of the concert, some readers abroad asked how they could make a contribution. There is now a PayPal account for that purpose; its email address is friendsofkennywheeler@gmail.com. Go to http://www.paypal.com and click on “Send Money”.

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